The Incredible Edible Camellia
Tea In America
Fall Blooming Tea Camellia
Growing Camellia Sinensis for Tea
Make Your Own Tea
Tea from Seeds Or Cuttings
Preparing C. sinensis for Tea Cultivation
Planting C. sinensis Outdoors
US Climate Zone Map
The Importance of Good Drainage
Growing C. sinensis in Cold Climates
Growing Camellia sinensis in Containers
Camellia Sinensis Soil pH
Growing Tea Indoors
Feeding Your Tea Plants
Water and Mulch for Your Tea Plants
What’s Eating Your Tea
Tea Plant Disease and Disorders
Tea, Thea, Chai, Chi , it doesn’t matter how
you say it, it all means the same thing. This remarkable beverage we all love to drink comes from the
leaves of Camellia sinensis. Today, tea from camellia
sinensis is the most widely consumed beverage in the
world next to water. But what is this plant, how did it
come to be, and what is the future for us with it?
Tea is made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. In
general, Camellias are evergreen shrubs and the produce flowers during the fall and winter months for the
most part. They are native to China, Japan and
Southeast Asia but have found their way for centuries
to all parts of the world where they have been thriving
and blooming for centuries. There are many types of
camellias, called species. Camellia japonica and camellia sasanqua are the most popular of the blooming
camellia species. Camellia sinensis, better known as
the tea plant, is the oldest camellia species known to
man but is the only camellia species that is grown for
This Tea Guide is not the “one size fits all” solution to
growing tea, but it will give you a good start at understanding and growing Camellia Sinensis.
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The Camellia Family
To understand Camellia sinensis, you need to look at
the family it belongs to. In the plant kingdom, every
living thing is divided into a vast category system .
Way down on the list of categories, you will find family, genus, species, then cultivar or variety .
Family: Th eaceae
Genus: Cam el li a
Species: S i nens i s
Cultivar: di fferen t vari eti es of th e s peci es
Camellia sinensis is a species of the genus “Camellia”
which is part of the family of Theaceae. There are
over 250 known species world wide. Most people may
be more familiar with sinensis’ famous cousins, Japonica and Sasanqua which are more known for
their bountiful fall and winter blooms that adorn our
gardens in milder climates. Japonica, sasanqua,
sinensis, reticulate, lutchuenensis, cuspidate, are just
a few of the hundreds of known species of the genus
Camellia. Each of the camellia species have some
basic similarities in genetic makeup which is the reason they were all categorized into the same genus. Likewise, each species has some characteristic
that make divide the plants further. Regardless of
species - the genus camellia produces flowers, are
evergreen shrubs and trees and they are all reproductively compatible, which means that they can be interbred between the individual species.
So are all camellias tea plants?
Camellia sinensis is the plant that is used for the worlds
most popular beverage, Tea! Many people are very surprised that tea is made from a camellia and has been for
thousands of years.
There is much confusion that surrounds the connection
between camellias and tea plants. For people who have
experience with camellias, you understand the difference.
For people who are not familiar with camellias, but are
interested in Tea, We like to explain it in this way……
“All Tea Plants are Camellias,
but not all Camellias are Tea Plants”
We use the term “Tea Plants” to describe a plant that is
used for making tea. Not all camellias are used for making tea, thus they are not all called “Tea Plants”. Only
the leaves from Camellia sinensis varieties are used for
Camellia sinensis is not just one plant. It has many thousand cultivars or varieties.
Just like the more ornamental flowering types of camellias, sinensis varieties have
varying characteristics that make it a very suitable plant
for most any garden.
The special characteristic that makes Camellia sinensis
the “tea plant” is that the leaves of Camellia sinensis cultivars contain caffeine. The other more popular ornamental species of camellia do not contain this important
attribute that makes tea what it is.
As with other camellia species, there are many characteristics within camellia sinensis varieties such as bloom colors which are predominantly white, but can be pink on
some varieties, foliage sizes and textures, growth rates,
and growth habits, such as upright dense varieties with
large leaves to small compact dwarf-like plants with very
small leaves. There are also some varieties with bronze
to red foliage. Only the leaves are used in tea production, not the flowers.
Regardless of your use of Camellia sinensis, for tea or for
flowers, you’ll will surely love growing this remarkable
plant species. So you ask “ Can I grow tea?” You sure
can, and in most climates, in one way or another, camellia sinensis can be grown successfully.
The Tea Fascination
For centuries, Tea was grown and used by the people of
China and Japan, but it was not until the early 1600’s that
Tea was first discovered by the Europeans. Much of the
early use of Tea was restricted to wealthy individuals and
nobility because of its high price. It was treated as a rare
spice with prices being over $100.00 per pound in the
early years of Tea in Europe. Like the craze that had
swept Tea into popularity in China and Japan, the trend
continued in Europe with Tea becoming a part of the way
of life. This was especially true in England where
“Afternoon Tea” became a ritual. In the late 1600’s, Tea
made its way into popularity in the English colonies in
The Tea Revolt
During the years leading
up to the American Revolutionary War, the English
imposed many different
taxes on the colonists that
were resented by the new
settlers of America. However, in 1767 when the English
imposed the Tea Tax, the colonists were motivated to
action by dressing up as Indians, boarding ships in New
England, and throwing hundreds of pounds of Tea into
the harbor as a protest of their displeasure. It became
well known as “The Boston Tea Party”, and it was this act
of defiance that ultimately led America towards achieving
its independence in the Revolutionary War.
Tea in the South
As was the case in China, Japan, and Europe, Tea became a very popular beverage in America as well. Some
of the earliest attempts to grow Tea in America occurred
in the southeast. According to a report from Francis
Moore, seeds of Camellia sinensis were sent to the Savannah, Georgia to be planted in the famous Trust Gardens
in 1744. The report goes on to say that the Tea seed did
not germinate. However, an 1857 report of the United
States Patent office indicates that Tea plants first came to
Georgia in 1772, and by 1805, Tea was growing on Skidaway Island near Savannah. Much of the early attempts to
grow Tea in America were unsuccessful due in part to
insufficient capital, and also because of a malaria epidemic that hit the Savannah region.
In the late 1700’s, Andre’ Michaux, a French botanist and
explorer, is credited for importing tea plants into South
Carolina along with many other unique flower species.
In 1858, The US Patent Office, convinced that Tea could
become a viable agriculture product in the USA, obtained
and distributed many Camellia sinensis Tea Plants
throughout the USA in hopes that growers could experiment with growing their own tea. This was done with the
help of a man named Robert Fortune. Fortune was the
great English plant explorer that discovered many of our
treasured plants in the western world during his journeys
in China. He is credited with exporting significant numbers of Tea Plants from China to England. In 1858 there
are records of his importing Tea plants to the USA. They
arrived in Wardian cases
which were like small greenhouses. Fortune discovered
that if he planted the seed in
these cases in China before
shipping them across the long
ocean voyages, the Tea seed
would be germinated by the
time they reached their destination. Many of these Tea
seedlings were 18 inches high when they arrived in America. The initial 10,000 Tea seedlings were propagated into
over 30,000 Tea plants and then widely distributed
throughout the Southern United States before the American Civil War.
In 1880, The US Government approached Henry Middleton, a well-to-do Gentleman of Charleston, SC and master
of the Middleton Plantation, about leasing some land for
the purpose of experimenting with growing tea. He
agreed and for the sum of one silver dollar, he leased
over 200 acres located near Summerville, SC. to the USA
but the experiment was short lived and was halted in
1884. Soon after, Dr. Charles Shepherd of South Carolina, started growing plants near the original location and it
is said that some of the plants he used were from the
plantings at Summerville. It was called the Pinehurst Tea
Thousands of visitors flock to their tea farm each year to
see their tea fields, production facility and to sample the
truly American grown tea.
Dr. Shepherd began importing tea
from all over the world and grew it in
separate fields on his property. He
then began hybridizing the tea from
other places with the tea he already
had established. His purpose was to
prove that tea could be successfully
grown commercially in America, and
that he did. By 1892, his tea fields
were producing 92 lbs. of tea per season and by 1907, it grew to over
12,000 pounds of tea from 100 acres.
Tea is proving to grow well in areas all across the USA.
There are emerging tea farms from east coast to west
Dr. Charles Shepherd
Dr. Shepherd created a school for tea pickers. He hired
black children to work for him and paid them .50 per day.
The average worker income during that time period was
$1.00 per week. He insisted on providing them decent
wages and teaching a skill that they could use for employment.
Shepherd died in 1915 and the production facility burned
down therefore stopping all tea production. The property
was eventually sold in 1955 and is now known as the Tea
In 1963, the then owner, Harold Sebring, leased 20 acres
to the Lipton Tea Company for research. Lipton moved
some of the plants to Wadmalaw Island and that move
eventually became the famous Charleston Tea Plantation.
Tea Today and Beyond
Today, the Charleston Tea Plantation grows over 100
acres of tea plants.
The days of hand harvesting, at least in the
USA are gone. The
CTP were the first in
America to design,
build and operate a
Their facility also follows a mechanical theme in processing and packaging.
The Great Mississippi Tea Gardens is being established by Jason McDonald in Brookhaven, Mississippi.
Their mission is to establish a working tea farm that can
serve as a map for future development of other ventures
like theirs. They hope
to create industry
mechanical processing, growing
methods, ethical sustainable labor practices all while trying to
make the world a
greener place by reducing chemical and
pesticide use. But
Jason does not stop
there, he is also working in Hawaii to establish and re-establish working tea
farms by employing the same ideals and missions that he
has in Mississippi.
But Charleston and Mississippi are not the only commercial tea farms in America. There are many new and
emerging tea farms all across the USA. Currently we
know of farms in Texas, Idaho, Washington, Oregon,
Tennessee, North Carolina and California.
Home gardeners are also growing Camellia sinensis in
cities, suburban landscapes, and in their rural gardens.
With the risk of pesticides and gmo’s in our food, people
are looking for safe alternatives to bring to their tables.
Since the dawn of the new millennium, we are seeing
wide spread interest in Tea due in part to those first tea
pioneers planting the first seeds. Many of the tea plants
that we have today are related to those first plants
brought to America almost 200 years ago. It will be interesting to see just how far American will go in their
quest to Grow Their Own Tea!
The Fall Blooming Camellia
One plant –two uses!
Camellia sinensis is not just for tea. It is a wonderful
addition to any garden because of it’s “camellia family”
characteristics. Much unlike most of it’s famous camellia cousins, Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua, Camellia sinensis flowers are small, simple and
some are even slightly fragrant. Late summer sprays
of blossoms adorn the evergreen plants in colors of
white or pink depending on the variety. The many diverse leaf textures and plant sizes all offer something
special to your garden as even without blooms, the
plants are very attractive.
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen ornamental shrub
that is easy to maintain, can tolerate a wide climate
range. The many types of sinensis cultivars available
can vary in growth habits and sizes, so they can fit
into a wide range of locations.
Camellia sinensis has an active growing season that
begins in late April or early May and extends through
September in climate zones 8. In colder zones like 6
and 7, the growing season could be shorter and in
warmer zones like 9 and 10, it could be longer.
Blooming Season - reproductive stage
Camellia sinensis that are grown for tea are plucked or
pruned on a regular basis during the plant’s growing
season. This constant plucking keeps the plant constrained and makes it difficult for it to enter the reproductive phase, which is setting flower buds and producing seeds. If you do not constant pluck that leaves
the plant will begin to develop flower buds which will
open during the late summer to early fall. The flowers will be pollinated either by bees, or the wind and
with a certainty that they will develop seeds the following summer. The seeds can be harvested, planted
and will more than likely grow into brand new tea
plants. The flowers do not play a part in producing
Top—Oglethorpe Tea in bloom
Oglethorpe Tea in bloom, close up of bloom
Oglethorpe Tea Foliage not in bloom
Madison Tea—Foliage & pink blooms
Grow Camellia Sinensis
Camellia sinensis can be successfully grown for making
tea as long as you understand what the plant will do.
When you buy a car, you know how fast it will go, you
know what gas mileage it should get and you know if it
will get stuck in the mud. Your tea plants are no different. As long as you make yourself familiar with the plant
and it’s likes and dislikes, you should be successful at
Camellia sinensis grown for tea will rarely flower. This is
because you are constantly harvesting tea leaves, so the
plant is in a growing stage and not left to flower.
Tea and Climate
Climate could play a part in the taste of tea, but not as
important as the way in which the tea is processed. Typically, tea plants grow well in moderate climates where
the growing season is long and the weather is humid.
Milder climates of the US are well suited for tea production—this is typically zones 8 and 9.
There are several periods of the tea plant production in
which you will go through. The Branch formation stage
which you will prune your tea plant for optimum plant
growth so that you will get as many leaves as possible.
The second stage is the harvesting stage at which you
begin harvesting tea leaves. And the third stage is one
that you probably won’t get to for a while, the rejuvenation stage.
The branch formation stage can take up to 3 years to
establish many branches for your sinensis tea plant. During this time you will be pruning and trimming your plant
but you also want to pay close attention to it’s nutritional
needs. Fertilizing is a necessary element that you will
need to address during this time.
The second stage is the actual harvesting stage. After
your plant has reached 3 years of age and has significant
branches, you can begin harvesting tea. This stage, depending on how often you harvest, can last for years.
During this time, close attention to plant health is necessary. Fertilizing, mulching, insect control will all need to
be addressed to keep your plant healthy and producing
foliage for harvest. You’ll also want to remove and dead
or spindly branches to keep your plant at it’s best.
The third stage is the rejuvenation stage. This is a stage
at where your plant has become leggy, spindly, or is not
producing healthy leaves or branches. This can be
caused by weather, improper soil, insects, planting
methods or just about anything else that will cause your
plant to decline in a healthy state. At this point you have
the option of just cutting your losses or cutting your
plant, which is recommended. Giving a severe harsh
pruning will encourage the plant to grow new branches.
This should be done during the dormant season when the
plant is not actively growing and is best accomplished by
not cutting more than 1/2 of the plant back at a time.
Removing dead or weak branches will also improve the
overall health of your tea plants.
Harvesting Tea Leaves
Once your tea plants are established and you begin harvesting tea leaves, you only want to do so during the
active growing season. Young tender growth is the only
part of the plant that is used for making tea.
Each plant, if it is in a healthy state, should produce new
leaves every 7 to 14 days during the growing season.
An average plant about 3’ tall and 3’ wide should produce
about 70-80 tea leaves if properly trained to produce
branching. This would result in about1-2 cups of tea after the leaves are dried. It takes about 60,000 leaves to
make a pound of tea. One plant would probably satisfy
your curiosity for tea, but if you are a hefty tea drinker,
you would certainly need more. This is also dependent
on the growing season which could be longer or shorter
depending on your location.
All tea plants, regardless of where you live, will go
through a dormant stage. In warmer regions, the plants
can produce foliage up until October then begin to harden
off as they reach a dormant stage. In colder regions
where the weather starts to get cooler, the dormant season may start earlier. During the dormant season, the
roots continue to grow, but maybe at a slower pace. Fertilizing should be at a minimum during this time. The
water requirements are lower during the cool weather so
you may have to adjust your watering schedule. Mulching and insect control should be maintained at this time
as well. Usually by April or May it is warm enough for the
growth buds to break dormancy and begin their growing
season again and your harvesting cycle can begin again.
Types of Tea
There are three main types of tea and they are all made
from the leaves of Camellia sinensis.
The difference in these types of tea is the processing
method. Green Tea is not allowed to oxidize or ferment.
Oolong Tea is allowed to partially oxidize, and Black Tea
is allowed to completely oxidize.
Processing Tea Techniques & Practices
The processing method you choose and your skill at it will
determine the taste of your tea. In tea producing countries, it can take years to become a master tea maker,
but with practice, you can process your tea to taste like
you want it to. For many, green tea is the easiest and
most healthiest of the tea to process.
Black Tea, Oolong Tea, and Green Tea
Some methods of processing can involve letting the
leaves dehydrate, breaking or rolling, steaming, or pan
frying and can be a combination of any of these techniques. There is really no correct way to do it. Your results will be the guide on how you should perform the tea
All other types of tea, Jasmine, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, consist of a base of sinensis. Flavorings such as jasmine,
cinnamon, or citrus can be added to the tea to give it a
distinctive flavor. Other types of tea such as Chamomile
or Ginger, are not made with sinensis, and should really
be considered Herbal Teas.
Other Types of Tea
Parts of the Plant used for Certain Teas
In addition to the types of processing techniques you use,
taking certain parts of the tea plants will also result in different tastes. For example,
Green tea is taken from the tip of the branch and consists
of the top leaf and a bud (a leaf that has not unfurled
Black Tea is produced from one to two leaves and a bud
White Tea is the purest of all tea and the leaves are harvested from just the unfurled leaf buds.
First Flush tea is the first tea harvested at the onset of
the growing season. It is usually the sweetest and purest
of all tea that will be harvested.
Make Your Own Tea from
These are just a few of the basic methods we
found. Remember that making tea is an art and
practice will give you the results you want to
1. Tender young growth is picked by hand from Camellia sinensis. Young shoots with 2
- 3 leaves are recommended. Any surface water on the leaves and shoots is allowed to
dry in the shade for up to a few hours.
2. In preparing green tea, the oxidizing enzymes are killed by steaming the freshly
plucked leaf in a vegetable steamer on your stove for less than one minute, or by roasting in a hot pan ( cast-iron skillet ) for a few minutes. This process is called "sha
qing" (killing out) in Chinese.
3. Proceed to Drying (Below)
1. The freshly plucked shoots from Camellia sinensis are spread out thinly over a table on a
mat or a towel. The shoots are wilted under the sun for 30 minutes to one hour, depending
on the temperature.
2. The leaves are then taken indoors, where they are left to wither at room temperature for a
4-5 hours. During this period the leaves are gently agitated, crushed and bruised by hand
every hour. This process causes the edge of the leaf to turn red, and the moisture content
drops about 20%. These controlled actions cause the biochemical reactions and enzymatic
processes in the leaf, which in turn produce the unique aroma and colors found in oolong
3. Proceed to Drying (Below)
1. Tender young growth is picked by hand from Camellia sinensis. Young shoots with 2 - 3
leaves are recommended. Any surface water on the leaves and shoots is allowed to dry on
racks for 10 to 20 hours and its purpose is to bring down the internal moisture of the leaf
to somewhere between 60% and 70% of the original moisture.
2. The leaves are bruised to allow the fermentation process to begin. Several shoots are
rolled between your hands or crushed until the leaves darken and become crinkled. This
process is repeated until all the leaves are bruised till they turn a bright copper penny color.
3. The leaves are allowed to ferment by placing thin layers of leaves on a tray in a shady
location or indoors. After 2-3 days the leaves are ready for drying.
4. Proceed to drying below
Final Step Drying
Depending on the moisture content still in your tea, drying times will vary. In a 200ºF oven put your tea on a pan for
about 5-10 minutes, checking every minute or so to ensure drying, but not burning. Green tea may need a little longer
drying time in the oven than oolong or black. There’s no one right way—just experiment and have fun!
Seeds or Cuttings
Two propagation methods, two different outcomes
Camellia sinensis tea plants that have been allowed to
produce flowers will most likely produce seeds. These
green odd shaped seed pods begin to develop after
the flowers have been pollinated during the fall and
have a gestational season of about 8-9 months. Once
they begin to ripen, the seed pods can be opened and
the small black or dark brown seeds can be planted to
grow into more tea plants.
Tea Plant seedlings are not always true to the parent. If the flowers were pollinated by different varieties of sinensis, then the seedlings can carry certain
attributes from both of the parents, or they can be
entirely different as the gene pool gets scrambled. In
some areas where Tea Plants and other camellia species are blooming at the same time, there is a possibility that cross pollination can occur since all Camellia
species are reproductively compatible. This is rare, but
could happen in gardens where there are many types
of camellias blooming, especially early blooming varieties.
Usually seedlings from camellias that are open pollinated (basically by bees and wind) are classified as
the species of the seed parent. Thus, any seedling
that comes from a sinensis plant is considered as a
Camellia sinensis cultivar, regardless of it’s possible
parentage. In the event that the seedlings were of a
controlled cross, which means that it was manually
cross pollinated, if both pollen and flower were from
sinensis, the species would be sinensis. If the manual
pollination was of sinensis and another species, it
would technically be considered a hybrid.
Breeding of sinensis with other camellia species to develop certain desirable characteristics in a new camellia such as growth habit, leaf texture and blooming
seasons is being done by some growers but it is not
yet determined if new hybrids with sinensis parentage
will be suitable for tea production.
Tea Plant seedlings are different from cuttings or
cloned varieties in that they all produce a tap
root. Starch is stored in this tap root and it makes for
a very healthy plant with the ability to overcome certain adversities such as drought as their tap root goes
far beyond the feeder roots in order to seek out water
and nutrients. Cuttings do not develop a tap root, but
have their own set of advantages. They produce a
plant that can be ready for harvesting sooner than
from seed and with cuttings you know exactly what
you are going to get so your harvesting plants will all
grow the same. Seedlings have the disadvantage in
that their growth habit or preferences are not known
at the onset like that of cuttings from established varieties.
So to answer the question, do you want tea plants
grown from cuttings or seeds? If you want to grow
and take a chance on what you might get, then grow
from seeds. If you want to know the history and the
preferences of the plants you will be growing, then
choose plants grown from cuttings. They both make
C. sinensis ‘Amelia Tea’ - all identical plants grown in
Preparing C. sinensis for Tea Cultivation
Branch Formation for Tea Production
If Camellia sinensis is being grown for tea production,
then you have some special training to do in order to encourage your plants to provide you with as many tea
leaves as possible. Tea is harvested from the shoots or
tips of plants, so it is understandable that we want as
many of these tips or branches on our camellia sinensis
In regions where tea is grown for commercial production,
plants undergo a 3 year training period called the Branch
Formation Stage. During this period of time, the plants
are groomed and pinched to encourage as many side
shoots as possible. This is easy to do and you will quickly
see the results.
Young plants produce stems with leaves. At the base of
every leaf near the stem is a dormant growth bud. When
the plant enters the growing season, a naturally occurring
plant hormone called gibberellins are released and are
strongest in the tip of the stem. Because of this concentrated hormone, the plant puts on new growth at the tip
of the branch. But in tea production, we want to encourage these side shoots or buds to grow. In order to do
this, we pinch out the top of the growth bud which will
send the raging hormones to further down the stem
which will wake up the sleeping growth buds and cause
them to grow.
As these side shoots begin to grow, you will eventually
begin to pinch the growth buds out of them as well, encouraging even more side shoots.
Top Illustration shows a 10-12” branch of
camellia sinensis that is growing from the
top, not the side.
In the close up photo, you can see the
small growth bud at the base of the leaf
where it joins the stem.
Camellia Sinensis Tea Plant
Branch formation should begin the first growing season or
after the plant has reached 12”. Plants tend to grow
from the top and side growth usually comes later. To
have plants suitable for tea harvesting, you want to use
the first 3 years to begin formation of your tea plants.
Ideally you want a bushy plant with many branches as
tea leaves are only harvested from the tips when you do
begin taking leaves. So you want to have as many “tips”
or branches as possible.
You want to pinch tips all through the growing season
then give a harsh pruning in winter.
Ideal plant shape for
Pinch or cut and remove the tip
from plants that are actively
growing and are tender, soft
This will cause the other
growth buds farther
down the stem to begin
growing to create more
You can then pinch the
tips out of future
branches to encourage
even more branching
Camellia Sinensis Branch Formation Stages for Tea Production
Camellia Sinensis branch formation is a necessary
task if you wish to seriously grow camellia sinensis
for making tea. These are just guidelines based on
what is done on commercial tea farms. You can use
your own judgment as to what extent you wish to
prune your plants for your own tea production.
Pruning for branch formation should
begin the first year. This should be
done during the dormant season in
the United States that would be December or January. Prune to about 56” Make sure you are leaving some
foliage on the plant.
5 to 6
Ground or soil level
During the second
growing season, pinch
to encourage side
shoots then when the
plants are dormant for
year two, (DecemberJanuary) prune to
about 12-14” tall as
indicated in the illustration
Ground or soil level
Ground or soil level
Continue pinching tips to encourage side shoots for year 3 growing season. You may even be able to get enough leaves
by plucking to make some tea at this stage. And once again, during the dormant season of year 3, prune to 18-20” tall.
Growing season year four you are ready to really get down to harvesting on a regular basis.
Planting Camellia Sinensis Outdoors
For Warmer Climate Zones 7-8-9
Tea Plants can be planted outdoors in milder climates. A part-sun part-shade environment works best
and Tea Plants should be protected from afternoon
sun. They are not as sensitive to cold weather as
most plants can be and have been known to grow as
far north as Climate zone 7 and even some warmer
parts of zone 6. The main thing to keep in mind with
Camellia sinensis plants is that they absolutely will not
tolerate wet feet or planting too deeply.
Camellia sinensis can tolerate full sun in most moderate climates PROVIDED it gets adequate water. If
your plant does not get adequate water in full sun it
could burn, or it could dry out causing brown tips and
margins or even death. Morning sun is preferred with
Select the proper location and planting time for your
plant—Zone 8 and 9 Fall to Spring planting. Zone 7
Spring planting is recommended. Zone 5,6 not suitable for outdoor planting.
Create a raised planting or berm where you will your
plant will be installed. This can be made of using additional soil from other locations in your yard, or it can
be made using top soil. The area should be at least 34 inches higher than the existing ground level.
Once your raised planting or berm has been created,
dig out an area in the center to install your plant. Mix
in about 10%-15% organic material such as peat
most or leave compost with the soil that was dug out
of the center of the raised planting or berm.
Remove your Tea Plant from the container and plant
it in the hole at the top of the raised planting or berm.
You want the top of the Tea Plant’s root system to be
exactly level with the top of the raised planting or
Use the soil that was dug out and mixed with the organic material to fill back in the hole around the root
system. Carefully pack the soil as you fill it in to avoid
any air pockets.
Once the plant is installed, mulch with about 3 inches
of organic material such as bark, leaves, or pine straw
and water the plant thoroughly.
By creating this raised planting or berm, you have
insured that excessive water will be drained away
from your plant so that it will not be too wet. By incorporating organic material into the soil surrounding the
roots, you have insured that the soil will retain sufficient moisture for the plant.
Once your plant has established itself by sending out
roots into the raised planting or berm you should have
an ideal growing area for your Tea Plant. Until the
roots of your Tea Plant have grown out and established itself, be sure to water several times a week.
Any excess water will continue to run off.
US Climate Zone Map
The USDA Climate zone map is beneficial in determining the cold hardiness of plants in certain regions. We often refer
plants to certain climate zones. To lookup you climate zone, find your region on the map and then find the corresponding color on the chart under the map to see your zone number. The numbers under the color chart indicate the approximate minimum temperatures your area experiences.
Camellia Belt Climate zone 8 and 9
Very favorable for planting outdoors. Fall to Spring planting is recommended
Suitable for growing some varieties in the ground, but mainly in containers. Can plant year round
Intermediate - Zone 7
Some varieties outdoors in protected areas, or grown outdoors in warmer weather, indoors in very cold weather Spring
Planting is recommended
Extremely Cold - 6 and 5
Outdoors in warmer weather, indoors in very cold weather, could possibly damage or kill plants outdoors during cold
weather. Not suitable for outdoor planting
Outdoors in warmer weather, indoors in cold weather—will not tolerate outdoor temps
Chart shows minimum temperatures during cold months
The Importance of Good Drainage
Tea Plants like all other camellias likes to me moist at all time.
They do not need to be dry, and they especially do not need to
be wet. Tea is more sensitive to very wet conditions than most
other species of camellias, and Tea Plants can’t survive if the
conditions are very wet.
The problem with too wet soils for Tea is even more dangerous
if you put your Tea Plants in containers or pots. Many people
The easiest and most common way to kill Tea plants is to keep
them too wet. Whether the Tea Plants are in the ground or in
containers, if the soil retains too much water, your Tea Plants
are going to die and die quickly. We can’t emphasize this fact
enough. Tea likes to be moist at all times, but the excessive
water needs to be able to drain away from the root system immediately.
Tea Plants grow on the side of mountains and hills in many
parts of the world. Think of rain on the side of a mountain. If
the soil contains good organic material, moister from the rain
will be retained in the soil, while the excessive rain water runs
of the mountain side. This is the ideal condition for growing
Tea, but most of us don’t have mountains sides for planting
A good rule to follow is to always plant Tea in the ground on
raised plantings. If you build up the soil into a small slightly
raised hill with good organic material added to the soil, you can
plant your Tea Plants on the top of these raised plantings. This
will insure that the excessive water always runs away from the
roots. At the same time, the organic components of the soil will
retain constant moisture for your plants.
This raised planter would be excellent to use in areas where
your soil may not provide adequate drainage.
kill their Tea plants by planting them in the wrong planting soil
in containers. There are many great potting soils sold today at
garden centers including nationally advertised brands that are
great for most plants. The problem is that most of these commercial potting soils have too much peat most in the soil for
Tea Plants. This excessive peat moss holds too much water and
the Tea Plants stay to wet. When this happens, the Tea Plants
placed in these containers in this type of soil will die quickly.
Don’t kill your Tea Plant. Always think about good drainage
whether your Tea is growing in a container or in the ground.
Growing Tea in Cold Climates
Tips for Managing The Cold
Traditionally the camellia belt is known as zones 8 and 9. In the past, zones
north of this area such as 7, 6 and 5, have not been very habitable for growing camellias outdoors—but in some areas that are warmer, some camellias
are grown outdoors with not much trouble. It all depends on your individual
climate and the variety of camellia you choose.
Research has shown that there are some camellias that have proven to grow
outdoors and handle cold much better than others. With the development of
Cold hardy Hybrids, the choices are much better than 20 years ago. First
you should know what to expect from your camellia and then be prepared to
offer it the best chance to grow.
Tips for growing camellias in colder climates from Dr. William Ackerman, expert nurseryman and developer of many of
our cold hardy camellias:
Spring planting is recommended rather than fall planting, unless the plants are protected the first winter or two.
Water well all season especially if the weather is dry.
Avoid full sun especially early morning sun during freezing winter weather. A canopy of evergreen shade trees will
provide shade all winter and is ideal.
Planting near a wall or other structure can help block harsh winter winds.
Do not fertilize after June in colder climates of zone 5, 6 and 7. Spring applications of Hollytone or other applications is sufficient.
Protect newly planted camellias during their first winter or two. Micro foam or frost blankets usually work well for
this type of protection as does extra mulch.
Soil amendments may be well rotted compost or pine bark. Use peat moss sparingly as it becomes too dense with
Growing Camellia Sinensis In Containers
Camellia sinensis can be successfully grown in containers
as long as you remember some very important tips!
The most important thing to remember about Camellia
sinensis is that it will absolutely not tolerate wet soils or
soils that do not drain properly. Make sure you pay close
attention to the recommendations we have for potting
We use a soil mix that
we custom blend using
two different sizes of
bark, one very finely
ground (less than 1/8”
and one that is less than
1/2”. We also use peat
moss and micronutrients.
Growing in Containers—tips
Choose a container that is about twice as large as the
root mass of your plant.
AVOID containers that are too large or you could
have uneven water and nutrient distribution which
could lead to trouble with your plant. Keep plant roots
near the top of the pot.
Make sure your container has plenty of drain holes.
Fill the bottom with larger pebbles or stones so that
water can drain well to the bottom of the pot and out.
Avoid clogging holes.
Clay will pull more water out of the soil—so if you
must use clay, pay close attention to your plants water needs.
Don’t let your container sit in a saucer of water. Drain
water off so that water will not be wicked back up into
Garden centers may
have bagged ground
aged bark and may call it soil conditioner - check the ingredients to be sure. Nurseries in your area that grow
their own shrubs and trees may have the bark mix.
Check with a local nursery in your area. Also refer to our
alternate mix below
Tsubaki Tea Soil—5 Gallons
3 gallons bucket of Pine bark fines or mulch.
Also sold as soil conditioner. Less than 1/4
inch pieces finely ground.
2 gallon bucket of Pine bark mini nuggets,
small pine bark pieces less than 1 inch pieces
1 gallon bucket of Peat moss
Hollytone and Milorganite (1/2 cup each)
Choose the correct potting soil for
The natural habitat for camellia sinensis are soils that are
organic in nature and well drained. You will see them
planted on hillsides and in rocky terrain. This is because
these type soils are high in acidity and drain very well. If
we try to mimic the type of soils that Camellia sinensis
grows in, then we will be successful at growing it.
The biggest mistake people make with sinensis is buying
the bagged potting mixes that contain peat. Peat moss
adds moisture retention to the soil which is something that
sinensis plants will not tolerate. We do not recommend
that you use the commercial bagged mixes unless you
have used them with sinensis before.
Alternative Soil Recipe
5 Parts Miracle
Grow “Garden Soil”
For Shrubs & Trees (NOT
Veg and Bedding)
1 Part Perlite
This is Garden Soil, not Potting Soil
Camellia Sinensis Soil pH
Proper pH will give you healthy plants
Soil pH, or potential Hydrogen, and numeric scales are used describe
whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. A pH reading of 7.0 is considered
neutral. Higher than 7.0 is considered alkaline and below 7.0 are acidic.
Soils that are too alkaline can prevent nutrients from being taken up into
the plant thus causing nutrient deficiencies. If you are unsure of your soil
pH, or if your plants are not performing well, it would be wise to have your
soil tested. Keep in mind that soil pH can be different as close as 2-3 feet
away—so checking the exact area they are growing in will give you correct
Camellias prefer a soil pH of 4.5-5.0 and not higher than 5.5 or
best results and to maintain optimum health.
Damage, growth problems and nutrient deficiencies can occur in
plants that are growing in soils with a pH balance.
Garden soil pH probe testers are not always accurate. Chemical
tests are more accurate. Your county extension service should be
able to provide soil testing for you.
A lot of things can affect soil acidity, soil makeup or materials in the soil, excessive rain fall or drought, and even some
fertilizers can add or reduce pH levels. Having your soil tested is a sure-fire way to know for sure exactly what soil you
have and how to correct it if necessary.
Growing Tea Indoors
In some areas it may not be conducive to grow camellias outdoors during the winter
months, or in certain cases, at all depending on your circumstances. Understanding
the plant needs will help you be successful in growing camellias in other areas besides
their natural habitat.
Camellia sinensis prefer bright light, direct sun with caution especially if turning because it can burn un-acclimated leaves. If at all possible grow them outdoors in nonfreezing weather and bring them indoors for severe freezes.
Tips for Growing Camellia sinensis indoors
If possible, grow outdoors during growing season. Move indoors during dormant, winter season.
When indoors, keep away from heat sources such as fire places and heaters.
Provide bright but indirect light
Cool temperatures - above freezing to 60° during winter
Turn your camellias often to prevent stretching
Follow the guidelines for growing camellias in containers in this e-book
Food For Your Tea
Fertilize your Camellia sinensis
Nutrients are a very important part of camellia care. Your
camellias will need adequate nutrients throughout their
life cycle, and they can’t get it if you don’t give it to them!
We suggest going with organics if you can. Organics are
safer for your plant and will give you excellent results.
Camellias LOVE organic fertilizers such as Hollytone™
which is specially formulated for Acid loving plants.
It’s the best and what we use on all of our plants.
Milorganite is another great fertilizer to add to your
feeding. When combined with Hollytone, your plants
will get just what they need!
Choose a liquid fertilizer or water soluble like Miracle
Grow or Peters plant food for plants younger than 3
years of age
Go very lightly on granular “Azalea & Camellia” fertilizer as burning can occur very easily. Make sure if
you use this type, that you water well to wash it off
leaves and into soil
Fertilize on a regular basis. You eat on a regular basis and if you don’t, you’ll see results—so will your
camellias. Once every 3 years is not enough.
Don’t use any fertilizer that is not a general/all purpose or is labeled for other things like lawn fertilizer,
cactus fertilizer etc. Like camellias, all fertilizer is
Also be careful doubling up on fertilizers - if you have
used any type of fertilizer, don’t apply a second application of something else until you know exactly what
you’re using. Call us if you have any questions.
Pay close attention to camellias in containers when
fertilizing. Water soluble or organic fertilizers are recommended as granular and timed released fertilizers
could cause salt burn on containerized camellias.
Hollytone™ - This organic low nitrogen
ground or container plantings is excellent for young and old plants alike. We
use it on all of our camellias, including
sinensis and the results are remarkable.
Also an excellent fertilizer to use
alone or with combined with HollyTone. Your plants will thank you!
Mix equal parts with Hollytone and
fertilize about every 6 weeks during
the growing season!
Miracle Grow™ “Miracid” is a
water soluble fertilizer and is formulated for all acid loving plants, including camellia. You must use it
regularly to get results. Using
once a season is not adequate.
Water and Mulch for Your Tea Plants
Water is a necessary nutrient and the number one cause of camellia failure if not provided or if
given too much. When you plant camellias, whether in the ground or in containers, make
sure the soil drains properly and that your plants receive adequate moisture. If you plant outdoors and have an irrigation system, make sure the system provides adequate irrigation and
does not run off or is blocked by other plants. Also, new plants will need to have special attention until they get established. They will dry out more quickly than plants that have established themselves. Make sure water does not puddle or stand around plants. Sinensis will not
tolerate wet soils or mucky soils that do not drain properly.
Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air. Camellia sinensis plants like a slightly humid environment, but not enough that keeps the foliage wet. Camellia sinensis can do well in a variety of climates
- but do best with humidity levels that are 60-70%.
Mulching is a great way to keep moisture loss at a minimum and also protects the roots against extreme cold or heat.
Mulch needs to provide organic matter to be no only a moisture barrier but to provide nutrients to the soil as it breaks
down. Rubber mulch does not break down and does nothing for your plants.
Types of Mulches
Bark mulches are
excellent barriers to
weeds and moisture loss
through heat and can
help protect roots from
winter damage as well
Pine straw, leaves, compost and bark all
break down into vital nutrients that the
plants will absorb
What’s Eating Your Tea?
Tea scale is the most common insect found on camellias. Left untreated, plants can become unhealthy which can result in the plant’s poor performance or death. Scale insects
attach camellias from under the leaves and usually appear as a white web like substance.
Damage from scale can be seen on the upper part of the leaf as mottled yellow areas.
Treat with oil spray or insecticidal soap
Mites are another insect that can be found under the leaves of camellias as very fine dust
like substance that easily washes off with water. Damage to upper leaves from mites appear as a bronzing look starting at center and spreading down the main vein to the edges
Treat with oil spray or insecticidal soap
Aphids usually attack the new growth of camellias in the spring or as buds develop. They
are small ant-like insects and are very visible. There is really no prevention, but treatment
with an insecticide labeled for Aphids will usually do the trick if you see them. It’s not unusual to find ands where you find aphids. Aphids secrete a sweet sticky substance that
can attract ants. Occasionally aphids can attack flower buds as well causing damage to
unopened buds. Treat with oil spray or insecticidal soap
Deer will eat camellias. If you have a problem, fence small plants or cover with netting
the first year or so. Once camellias get large, they usually don’t mess with them. Deer
can devastate camellias by chewing off the foliage which creates an avenue for disease
from damage to the plant. Camellias have to have foliage to survive.
Caterpillars and other leaf eating insects
Significant damage can be done to leaves by caterpillars and other leaf eating insects.
Normally in the south, these come out and night and feast on the leaves then retreat back
to the soil or lower branches during the heat of the day. Control is difficult without the
use of insecticides.
BEE Mindful of Bees
Using insecticides, especially on tea during flowering can be devastating to bees. To keep that
balance of nature, spray before or after flowering
and use an organic soap or oil spray. Neem
Oil or a paraffin based oil spray works well for controlling most insects. Ready
made insecticide soaps and homemade Soaps, such as dish soap works well too
and are safe for your plant and the environment. We recommend 1-2 tablespoons dish soap in 1.2 gallon of water and put in a spray bottle and spray your
plants for insects if you see them. Keep our eco system healthy and don’t harm
Camellia sinensis Disease & Disorders
Algal Leaf Spot
Camellias that are grown in
sites of higher light levels are
more prone to being infected
with algal leaf spot. Conditions
that increase the chance or severity of infection are: poor air
circulation and excessive leaf
wetness through rainfall or irrigation. Control can be achieved
by raking and removing fallen,
diseased foliage, eliminating or reducing frequency of
over-head irrigation, and improving air circulation by
pruning back nearby shrubs and over-hanging tree limbs.
Sprays with a copper-based fungicide may be required.
Camellia sinensis planted or placed in full sun
can run the risk of having sunburn. When the
suns rays are exposed
to plant that has not
been acclimated, it can
cause burning. This can happen if you prune a plant and
suddenly leaves that were hidden from direct sun are not
exposed. Or it can be that a plant that has been growing
in a shade environment now is exposed either through
moving it or moving something else that may have been
covering it, like another plant. We suggest that you
grow your sinensis tea plants in a semi-shaded environment out of direct sun.
Fungal Leaf Spots and Damage
All camellias are subject to fungal leaf diseases. They are
usually found in climates that are warm and humid and
when new growth is present. New tissue is very tender
and fungal spores can enter through even the smallest of
openings caused by insects, or
just minor damage. It can also
be caused by water that sits on
the leaves, especially at night,
or where plants and foliage is
tight without good air flow.
Treat with a fungicide during
the warm months and prune
plants to improve good air flow. Also water during the
morning, not at night.
Plants that do not receive the necessary nutrients can
become deficient in one of more necessary elements.
This can be caused by a lack of nutrients, inadequate
mulching, or by an incorrect soil pH. Nutrient deficiencies
should be correct to achieve optimum plant health for
Camellia sinensis is very susceptible to heat stress either
from very high temperatures or direct sun that can
burn the leaves. This picture shows damage to
leaves of plants after being
exposed to 100+ temperatures for a few days without
any protection. Heat stress
not only affects the foliage
but the entire plant can defoliate. Unfortunately, defoliation is the plant’s last resort to try to stop the problem it’s
having, but many times they will not recover. Heat
stress can be caused by their environment heating up
suddenly to very high temperatures.
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Camellias and Camellia Sinensis Tea Plants
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